Having overcome historic rival Germany in the last 16, facing Ukraine might seem like an easier proposition for England.
Turns out, though, that Saturday’s quarterfinal match at the Stadio Olimpico might be England’s toughest test of the European Championship.
That’s because it’s the only match of Euro 2020 that England will have to play away from the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium.
Making matters more complicated is that the Italian government has explicitly warned Britain-based England fans to stay away from the game unless they can prove they have observed five days of quarantine since arriving.
For a team like England that is known for its traveling supporters, that’s a major blow.
“We’ve got to create our own atmosphere on Saturday in Rome, which we’re capable of doing,” said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who has kept four clean sheets in the tournament. “The fans were tremendous the other night and throughout the group stages as well. I think that gives us added motivation for the game on Saturday to come back for a semifinal with 60,000 fans.”
The winner between Ukraine and England will play either Denmark or the Czech Republic in the semifinals on Wednesday at Wembley, with the final also scheduled for England’s home stadium.
For Ukraine’s coaching staff, meanwhile, playing in Italy is a homecoming.
Head coach Andriy Shevchenko was one of Serie A’s most prolific scorers during his playing career with AC Milan, while assistant coach Mauro Tassotti is from Rome and began his playing career at the Stadio Olimpico with Lazio before going onto a long and successful career at Milan as both a player and assistant coach.
“If the Italians support us because we’re the weaker team that’s absolutely fine,” Tassotti said. “I’m really hoping the fans give us some big support.”
Still, Tassotti acknowledged that beating England is a “titanic challenge.”
“But we’ve seen what happened over the past few days with the Netherlands and France,” Tassotti told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “England has enormous talent but they’ve also had the advantage, like other nations, of playing only at home.”
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Expect an old-fashioned Italian “catenaccio” (lockdown defense) and counterattack approach from Ukraine to deal with talented England strikers Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, who accounted for the goals in the 2-0 win over Germany.
Tassotti said the tactics will be to “stifle” England, “close spaces,” and “prevent them from running.”
“Those are the types of matches they don’t like. They’ve got talent but we’ve got to try to force them to think as much as possible and only then take advantage of our talent,” Tassotti added. “If we think we can play them straight up considering all the talent that they have, we won’t go very far.”
If Ukraine can get into the opponent’s half, the attack should flow through Andriy Yarmolenko, who plays in England for West Ham.
Likewise, Oleksandr Zinchenko is teammates with Sterling at Manchester City.
Having barely scraped through the group phase, it will be Ukraine’s first European Championship quarterfinal match.
England is looking to match its performance from the 2018 World Cup, when it reached the semifinals. The last time England made it to the last four of the European Championship was in 1996.
But the bigger goal for England at this point is to duplicate the success of the 1966 team that won the World Cup and lifted the trophy on home soil.
“We just need to be on our A game,” Pickford said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game. Every game is tough so we’ll be ready.”